Use these tips to celebrate a safe Fourth of July in Colorado's outdoors

Morgan Tilton
Be aware that regardless of experience level, Colorado's cold water can lead to a drowning emergency.(Photo by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.)

Coloradoans love spending the Fourth of July outdoors, whether attending parades or backyard barbecues, camping out, or watching the fireworks from the tailgate.

Outdoor fun also comes with various risks this time of year in Colorado. That list includes dry, dangerous conditions for wildfires, adventuring on deep or turbulent bodies of water, and potential contact with wildlife such as bears or moose.

No matter where you spend the holiday, here are the safety guidelines to help mitigate any emergencies, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
In Colorado, many black bears are blonde, cinnamon, or brown.(Photo by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.)

Be aware of bears

An estimated 20,000 black bears speckle the Centennial State, reports CPW. While they are naturally shy and often run away, bears are very attracted to food—their nose is 100 times more sensitive than a human's.

To help protect bears and prevent them from damaging your camp's property or vehicle, be diligent: safely pack and store food and toiletries every night and when you leave camp midday. Don't bring food into your tent or leave it in your rig.

Some campsites feature a locker for consumables called a bear box. Otherwise, you can rent or buy a bear-proof container (also known as a bear canister) to store your food and toiletries. Certain areas even require a bear canister, such as backpacking in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

Be sure to clean the dishes and grill.

While out on the trail, if you encounter a bear, stand still, talk calmly, look at the bear, and wave your arms slowly overhead. If a bear approaches you within 40 feet, use bear spray.
Designated campfire areas with installed campfire rings help to manage campfires and prevent emergencies.(Photo by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.)

Research fire bans and wildfire activity

Before you head out, check the fire restrictions and bans in the area where you plan to park your R.V. or set up a tent.

Fire bans and restrictions can quickly change day to day, so check one last time before you head out of cell reception.

The Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management provides an online database with the contact information for each county to help jumpstart your search.

You can also check for online fire ban updates with the land agency where you'll be camping, whether that's the United States Forest Service (USFS), National Park Service (NPS), or Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Do not go paddling alone and always share your plan with others before you go.(Photo by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.)

There are several stages of fire bans in Colorado. Stage 1 means you cannot start an open flame outside a permanently constructed fire ring in a developed recreation site such as a campground or designated dispersed campsite.

Stage 2 fire ban prohibits building, maintaining, attending, or using fire. Though rare, a Stage 3 fire ban closes an entire area it is impossible to manage the fire risk.

You can also look up current wildfire activity to help plan via InciWeb or the Coloradoan.
Plan ahead and make your camping reservations in advance during the holidays.(Photo by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.)

Avoid sparking a wildfire

To help mitigate wildfire risk, choose a camp with a designated campfire ring. Keep your campfires small and manageable.

When you enjoy the campfire, be sure to put the fire completely out with water—to the point that you could touch the embers. Make sure none are burning bright. Don't head to bed or leave the campfire unattended until it's out.

Though we all love fireworks, they are a fire hazard and not permitted on Front Range public lands.

Vehicles can also spark a fire. Before your road trip, check to ensure no parts of the vehicle drag, which could cause sparks. That includes checking the tire pressure and exhaust pipes and seeing if any chains or wheel rims are exposed. Upon arrival, avoid parking your vehicle on or driving across dry grass.
Avoid boating alone and always share your plan with others before you go.(Photo by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.)

Wear a personal floatation device (PFD) or life jacket

Whether on a boat, standup paddleboard, or canoe, you'll need a personal floatation device (PFD) for everyone on board.

According to Colorado Boating Statues and Regulations, you need an additional throwable device if the boat is more than 16 feet long. Also, children ages 12 and under must wear a PFD when on a vessel (unless they're in an enclosed cabin).

Regardless of experience level and age, falling into Colorado's cold water can quickly lead to shock and an emergency. Always paddle with a group and tell others on land about your plan and expected return time.

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Adventure journalist Morgan Tilton covers the outdoors with a focus on travel, industry news and human endurance. Featured in more than 70 publications, she’s a recipient of more than a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards.

Crested Butte, CO

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